Tuesday, March 26, 2013

TV Show Review: Monk - Season 5

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Challenging mysteries, great humor, tender moments
Cons: A few cartoonish moments
The Bottom Line:
Comedic puzzles
Some moments caricature
But still worth watching

Farms, Lepers, and Alice Cooper

It takes a special kind of person to be a Monk fan. That's because Monk is a special character. Played brilliantly by Tony Shalhoub, Adrian Monk is a former homicide detective, he was forced to take a leave of absence after his obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias took over his life. His special skills at solving crime are still needed, however, so he is sometimes called in to help Captain Stottlemyer (Ted Levine) and Lieutenant Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford). Helping him deal with life in general is his assistant Natalie (Traylor Howard). The shows are a mix of comedy as we watch Monk try to deal with his many fears, and drama as we watch him solve the crime of the week. There are often tender character moments as well that show just how much these four characters really do care for each other.

Season five finds Monk dealing with 16 new cases with his usual skills and issues. When the city garbage workers go on strike, it's up to Monk to solve a murder to get everything cleaned up. This episode features a cameo by rock star Alice Cooper. Is he the killer? Natalie convinces Monk to strike out on his own and open a private eye business. Monk's 25 year class reunion at Berkley involves a painful stroll down memory lane and the murder of a nurse. When Captain Stottlemeyer's son skips school to attend a rock concert, Monk finds a dead man in an outhouse. Disher inherits a farm and begins to think that his uncle was killed. It's modern science vs. Monk when San Francisco is threatened with the "Six Way Killer." And in a "Wings" reunion, Steven Weber plays a shock jock that may have killed his wife. He just has the perfect alibi; he was on the air at the time.

This season featured two episodes at aired during the hiatus between parts of the season. In the first, Monk finally meets his dad, a trucker who needs Monk's help to solve a murder. The second is very interesting. "Mr. Monk and the Leper" was originally shown in black and white and color. It's a very noirish tale, and the black and white color scheme really adds to the episode. Both versions, including their original introductions are included in the set.

And in a first, the episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing" is loosely based on the first of the Monk tie-in novels. Very loosely based. The basic storyline is the same, but many of the elements are changed. For example, Monk was never blinded in the book. But it's fun to see the two and compare how they turned out.

As always, this season provided many fun character moments and some hilarious situations. The mysteries are as inventive and puzzling as ever. I rarely find myself more then a step ahead of Monk.

I mentioned that the show isn't for everyone. First off, you obviously need to be a mystery fan. Second, the humor is an acquired taste. I have one friend who finds the situations Monk gets in too disgusting to watch. There's a bit of melancholy to the show and some black humor at times. Then again, there are one liners and physical comedy, too. As a result, the characters can become cartoonish at times. This felt especially true near the beginning of the season, especially with the garbage strike episode.

Most of the time, the actors do a great job of keeping things believable and human. Even things that could be over the top are kept in check by the great acting. Tony Shalhoub is brilliant as Monk. He's won many awards for his performance, all of them deserved. The rest of the cast is often overlooked, but they are equally as good, keeping their characters from getting lost behind the lead without overshadowing him.

Since the set has both the black and white and color versions of the one episode, there are 17 episodes in this four disc set. Extras include an audio commentary (a first for the series) on the black and white version of "Mr. Monk and the Leper." Disc four contains some hilarious "webisodes" that premiered on line. I know I've seen at least one used as a promo on TV, however. Finally, there's the pilot of Psych, a similar comedic mystery.

Monk isn't for everyone. But anyone who is a fan will love this season five set.

Season 5 Episodes:
1. Mr. Monk and the Actor
2. Mr. Monk and the Garbage Strike
3. Mr. Monk and the Big Game
4. Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing
5. Mr. Monk, Private Eye
6. Mr. Monk and the Class Reunion
7. Mr. Monk Gets a New Shrink
8. Mr. Monk Goes to a Rock Concert
9. Mr. Monk Meets His Dad
10. Mr. Monk and the Leper (Black and White)
11. Mr. Monk and the Leper (Color)
12. Mr. Monk Makes a Friend
13. Mr. Monk is at Your Service
14. Mr. Monk is on the Air
15. Mr. Monk Visits a Farm
16. Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy
17. Mr. Monk Goes to the Hospital

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